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Reuters: UPDATE 1-Shell prosecuted by Dutch over 2004 pollution

Thu Oct 4, 2007 6:15 PM BST
(Adds quotes from public prosecutor)

AMSTERDAM, Oct 4 (Reuters) – Dutch authorities are prosecuting Royal Dutch Shell (RDSa.L: Quote, Profile , Research) for not notifying authorities swiftly when one of its Dutch plants released a cloud of ethylene oxide into the atmosphere in March 2004.

A Shell spokesman said the firm initially thought the emission was less than 100 kg of the substance — the threshold for informing authorities — but an investigation later showed between 1,000 and 2,000 kg had been released.

“Shell did not report the substantial release of ethylene oxide to the authorities. They should have reported that,” a spokeswoman for the Dutch public prosecutor said on Thursday.

“Ethylene oxide is a risky substance, it can be quite dangerous and it can cause disasters.”

Oil major Shell said the emission of the substance, which is highly flammable and can lead to explosions, took place by accident during the start up of its Moerdijk plant after a major overhaul.

“We are not happy about the incident itself, it shouldn’t have happened,” Shell’s spokesman said.

“We didn’t know that it was more than 100 kg and as soon as we were able to calculate the exact amount then we notified the authorities immediately,” he said. The case would be dealt with in February after a couple of witnesses had been examined. The penalty would be decided then, the prosecutor’s spokeswoman said.

She added that the prosecutor was also pursuing Shell over a separate incident involving excessive emissions of another substance through a pipeline.

Ethylene oxide is an intermediate product used in the production of other chemicals. Its derivatives are used in the making of bottles, clothing, soap and paint. Shell’s Moerdijk plant is in an industrial area south of Rotterdam.

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